Hacklet 53 – Quick Tool Hacks

They say necessity is the mother of invention. Have you ever been right in the middle of a project, when you realize that you could hack up a simple tool which would make your current task easier? Maybe it’s a coil winder, or a device to hold .100 headers straight in their holes. Faster than you can say “Arabian Nights”, you’re working on a project within a project. It might not be pretty, but it gets the job done. This week’s Hacklet is all about quick tool hacks – little projects that help out around the shop or hackerspace.

lampieWe start with [theonetruestickman] and Magnificent Magnifier LED Coversion. [theonetruestickman] picked up an articulated magnifier lamp at Goodwill for $4. These lamps are a staple of benches everywhere. The only problem was the switch and fluorescent tube were both failing. [theonetruestickman] didn’t feel bad for the lamp though. He pulled out the tube, ballast, and starter, replacing them with LEDs. He used 12 V 3 watt LED modules to replace the tube. Three modules provided plenty of light. An old wall wart donated its transformer to the effort. Since these LED modules are happy running on AC, no bridge rectifier was necessary. The modernized lamp is now happily serving on [theonetruestickman’s] workbench.

toolNext up is [Kwisatz] with Pick Up tool hack. [Kwisatz] is a person of few words. This whole project consists of just two words. Specifically, “syringe” and “spring”. Thankfully [Kwisatz] has provided several pictures to show us exactly what they’ve created. If you’ve ever used one of those cheap pickup tools from China, you know [Kwisatz’s] pain. The tiny piece of surgical tube inside the tool creates a feeble vacuum. These tools only hold parts for a few seconds before the vacuum decays enough to drop the part. [Kwisatz] kept the tip of the tool, but replaced the body with a syringe. A spring is used to create just the right amount of vacuum to hold parts on while they are being placed.

fume[Dylan Bleier] made his shop air a bit safer to breathe with a simple fume extractor for $20. Solder and flux create some nasty smoke when heated. Generally that smoke wafts directly into the face of the hacker peeking at the 0402 resistor they are trying to solder. A bit of smoke once in a while might not be so bad, but over the years, the effects add up. [Dylan] used two 120V AC bathroom fans, some metal ducting, plywood, and a bit of time to make this fume extractor. [Dylan] is the first to say it’s not UL, CE, or ROHS compliant, but it does get the job done. He even added a screen to keep bugs from flying in from the outdoor exhaust port.

helix[ftregan] needed to wind a helical coil for an antenna, so he built Helix Winder. Helices are essentially springs, so that should be easy, right? Turns out that making a nice uniform helix is not the easiest thing in the world. The helix winder is a jig which makes winding these special coils much easier. Holes are drilled at a specific angle in a wooden block. The wire is fed through that block and rolled onto an aluminum tube. Rotating the block on the tube forces the wire into the helix shape. The only downside is that each winder is only good for once dimension of helix.

I’ve noticed that some of these quick hacks don’t get as much love as they deserve over on hackaday.io. So if you notice a cool hack like this, drop a comment and give the project a skull. If you want to see more of these hacks, check out our new quick tool hacks list! See a project I might have missed? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

PicoRico Hacks String Encoder for Bike Suspension Telemetry

It’s simple, it’s elegant, and it works really really well. The PicoRico team built a telemetry system for a downhill bike. Off the top of your head how would you do this? Well, telemetry is easy… just add an IMU board and you’re golden. They went beyond that and have plans to go much further. In fact, the IMU was an afterthought. The gem of this build is a sensor that may go by several names: string encoder, draw wire sensor, stringpot, etc. But two things are for sure, they planned well for their hackathon build and they executed on that plan. This landed them as first-runners-up for the top award at the 2015 Disrupt Hackathon in New York, and the winners of the top Hackaday award at the event.

picorico-thumb[Chris], [Marek], and [Dorian] wanted to log all the telemetry data from [Chris’] downhill bike. One of the biggest challenges is to measure the force absorbed by the suspension on the front fork. The three had seen a few attempts at this before. Those used a retractable wire like what holds keys to a custodian’s belt, mated with a potentiometer to measure the change. This is where the term stringpot comes from. The problem is that your resolution and sensitivity aren’t very reliable with this setup.

That is a sensor problem, not a mechanical problem so they kept the retractable reel and replaced the pot with a much more reliable part. In its place an AMT203 absolute position sensor provides an epic level of sensing. According to the datasheet (PDF) this SPI device senses 12 bits of rotation data, can be zeroed over the SPI bus, and is accurate to 0.2 degrees. Unfortunately we didn’t get a good up-close shot of the installation but it is shown in the video. The encoder and retractor mount above the shocks, with the string stretching down to the skewer. When the shocks actuate, the string extends and retracts, turning the absolute encoder. Combine this with the IMU (and two other IMUs they plan to add) and you’ve got a mountain of data to plot and analyze. The videos after the break show a demo of the string encoder and an interview with the team.

picorico-packing-heavyThey came to play

It’s worth noting that the PicoRico team were in this to win it. They packed heavy for the 20-hour hackathon. Here’s a picture of all the gear they brought along with them to the event… in addition to the bike itself.

We see a solder station, Dremel (with drill press), impact driver, tap and die set, extension cords, boxes full of electronics, and more. This type of planning breaks down barriers often faced at hardware hackathons. You can download a software library; you can’t download a tool or building material that nobody has with them. This is the same lesson we learned from [Kenji Larsen] who, as part of his mentoring at the event, brought a mobile fabrication facility in a roller bag.

If you start getting into hackathons, and we hope you will, keep this in mind. Brainstorm as much as you can leading up to the event, and bring your trusted gear along for the ride.

Continue reading “PicoRico Hacks String Encoder for Bike Suspension Telemetry”

2015 THP Inspiration: Medical Hacks

Last year’s Hackaday Prize focused on building something cool, useful, and open. This led to builds as impressive as quadcopters nicknamed the Decapitron, to devices as useful as an Everything Radio. It’s a big field, and if you want to build something that will win, you first need an idea.

This year we’re making that part of the process a little easier for you. We’re looking for builds that matter, be they devices that monitor pollution, feed entire populations, lay the groundwork for powering an entire city, or reduce the cost and increase access to medical care.

pillminderMedical builds are a tricky subject, but over the years we’ve seen a few that stand out. Some can be as simple as a pill dispenser that tells the Internet when you don’t take your meds. This type of build is actually pretty popular with several iterations, one that works with pill bottles.

Maybe a gadget you could find in a drug store isn’t your thing. That’s okay, instead you can turn your attention to advanced medical imaging, like 3D printing a brain tumor and preventing a misdiagnosis. We’ve seen 3D printed MRI and CT scans for a while now, and coming up with a system that automates the process would be a great entry for the Hackaday prize.

prosOf course with 3D printers, you have a bunch of prosthesis applications; from a nine-year-old who designed his own prosthetic arm, a printed prosthetic arm for a stranger, or something simpler like our own [Bil Herd]’s quest to rebuild a finger.

These are all simple builds, but ones that clearly meet the criteria of doing something meaningful. The sky is the limit, and if you want to improve the desktop CT scanner, learn CPR (correctly) from an automated assistant, or be brought back to life with your own design, that’s all well within the goals of this year’s Hackaday Prize.

Hacklet 28 – Programmable Logic Hacks

FPGAs, CPLDs, PALs, and GALs, Oh My! This week’s Hacklet focuses on some of the best Programmable Logic projects on Hackaday.io! Programmable logic devices tend to have a steep learning curve.  Not only is a new hacker learning complex parts, but there are entire new languages to learn – like VHDL or Verilog. Taking the plunge and jumping in to programmable logic is well worth it though. High-speed projects which would be impossible with microcontrollers are suddenly within reach!

fpga-hdmiA great example of this is [Tom McLeod’s] Cheap FPGA-based HDMI Experimenting Board. [Tom’s] goal was to create a board which could output 720p video via HDMI at a reasonable frame rate. He’s using a Xilinx Spartan 6 chip to do it, along with a handful of support components. The images will be stored on an SD card. [Tom] is hoping to do some video with the setup as well, but he has yet to see if the chip will be fast enough to handle video decoding while generating the HDMI data stream. [Tom] has been quiet on this project for a few months – so we’re hoping that either he will see this post and send an update, or that someone will pick up his source files and continue the project!

ardufpgaNext up is our own [technolomaniac] with his Arduino-Compatible FPGA Shield. Starting out with FPGAs can be difficult. [Technolomaniac] has made it a bit easier with this shield. Originally started as a project on .io and now available in The Hackaday Store, the shield features a Xilinx Spartan 6 FPGA. [Technolomaniac] made power and interfacing easy by including regulators and level shifters to keep the sensitive FPGA happy. Not sure where to start? Check out [Mike Szczys’] Spartan-6 FPGA Hello World! [Mike] takes us from installing Xilinx’s free tool chain to getting a “hello world” led blinker running!

lander3Still interested in learning about Programmable Logic, but not sure where to go? Check out [Bruce Land’s] Teaching FPGA parallel computing. Actually, check out everything [Bruce] has done on Hackaday.io – the man is a living legend, and a wealth of information on electronics and embedded systems. Being a professor of engineering at New York’s Cornell University doesn’t hurt either! In Teaching FPGA parallel computing, [Bruce] links to Cornell’s ECE 5760 class, which he instructs. The class uses an Altera/Terasic DE2 FPGA board to demonstrate parallel computing using programmable logic devices. Note that [Bruce] teaches this class using Verilog, so all you seasoned VHDL folks still can learn something new!


chamFinally, we have [Michael A. Morris] with Chameleon. Chameleon is an Arduino compatible FPGA board with a Xilinx Spartan 3A FPGA on-board. [Michael] designed Chameleon for two major purposes:  soft-core processors, and intelligent serial communications interface. On the processor side Chameleon really shines. [Michael] has implemented a 6502 core in his design. This means that it would be right at home as the core of a retrocomputing project. [Michael] is still hard at work on Chameleon, he’s recently gotten fig-FORTH 1.0 running! Nice work [Michael]!

Want more programmable logic goodness? Check out our Programmable Logic List!

That about wraps things up for this episode of The Hacklet! As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Hacklet 27 – Holiday Hacks

It’s beginning to look a lot like the holidays around here. That means it’s time for holiday hacks here on The Hacklet! This week we’re looking at the coolest festive hacks created by YOU on Hackaday.io!

xmashdrWe start with [charliex] and Cypress PSOC 4 + ESP8266 WS2812 RGB XMAS Lights. The name might be a mouthful, but the goal of the project is a simple one: Awesome Christmas lights! [Charliex] has created WiFi controllable Christmas lights. To do this, he’s utilized ARM core based PSOC4 chips from Cypress. WiFi duty is handled by the popular ESP8266 module, and the lights themselves are WS2812 addressable strips.

[charliex] really outdid himself this time, creating a complete solution from the ground up. He started with a Cypress dev board, but quickly moved to a board of his own design. The PCBs  first were milled at home, then sent out for manufacturing.
Control of the strip is via UDP through a WiFi network. [Charliex] found the strips have plenty of WiFi range to place outside his home.  The last part of the puzzle was control – which [charliex] handled in style by creating his own GUI to handle synchronizing several strips to music played on a central computer.

snowflakeNext up is [nsted] with another LED hack, Glowing Xmas Snowflake Sculpture. [Nsted] was contracted to add some extra LED bling to a sculpture. The problem was that these LEDs would be filling in gaps left in the primary interactive lighting system which ran the entire sculpture. Any time you have to meld two systems, things can get crazy. [Nsted] found this out as he added WS2812B Adafruit NeoPixel strips to the Sensacell modules already designed into the sculpture. Communications happen via RS485, with Arduino Due and Megas handling the processing. Power was a concern with this sculpture, as it was pulling over 100 amps at low voltage. Like many art installations, this was a “work down to the wire” event. Everything came together at the last-minute though, and the project was a success!

musicNext up is [Jeremy Weatherford] with Christmas Orchestra.  [Jeremy] has taken on the task of making the most epic retro electronics orchestra ever created. He’s playing Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Wizards in Winter on four floppies, three scanners, and an ancient inkjet printer. LED strips on the moving elements add lights to the sound. An Arduino Mega with a RAMPS board controls the show. [Jeremy] had his orchestra professionally recorded both on audio and in video. We’re anxiously awaiting the final video upload so we can rock out to some old hardware!

xmaslightsFinally, we’ve got [crenn6977] with his Solar powered Christmas Light Controller. This was [crenn6977’s] entry in the The Hackaday Prize. While it didn’t take him to space, we’re sure it will bring Santa to his door. Rather than run lots of tiny solar cells for his Sun powered Christmas lights, [crenn6977] is going for a single large panel and wireless control. The nRF24L01+ is handling the wireless connectivity, while a STM32F042 ARM cortex M0 processor is the brains of the operation. Solar power demands efficient design, so [crenn6977] is digging deep into op-amp circuits to keep those LEDs running through the night, and the batteries charging through the day.

It’s just about time for us to settle our brains for a long winter’s nap, so we’ll close this edition of The Hacklet here.  As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Hackerspace Tours: London Hackspace

On the way back from Hackaday Munich a couple of us got the chance to stop off in the UK, so we thought we’d take the opportunity to visit London Hackspace. With close to 1100 members and more than 6500 sq ft of space over two floors, it has to be one of the largest hackerspaces we’ve seen. [Russ Garrett] and [Jasper Wallis] were kind enough to show us around.  Continue reading “Hackerspace Tours: London Hackspace”

Hacklet 21 – Halloween Hacks Part 2

We asked, you listened! Last weeks Hacklet ended with a call for more Halloween themed projects on Hackaday.io. Some great hackers uploaded awesome projects, and this week’s Hacklet is all about featuring them. Every one of our featured projects was uploaded to Hackaday.io within the last 7 days.

masseffect2Mass Effect meets Daft Punk in [TwystNeko’s] 5-Day SpeedBuild Mass Effect Armor.  As the name implies, [TwystNeko] built the armor in just 5 days. Ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) foam was used to make most of the costume. Usually EVA foam needs to be sealed. To save time, [TwystNeko] skipped that step, and just brushed on some gold acrylic paint.  The actual cuts were based on an online template [TwystNeko] found. To top the armor off, [TwystNeko] used a custom built Daft Punk Guy Manuel helmet. Nice!


rat[Griff] wins for the creepiest project this week with Rat Bristlebot. Taking a page from the Evil Mad Scientist Labs book, [Griff] built a standard bristlebot based on a toothbrush and a vibrating pager motor. He topped off the bristlebot with a small rubber rat body from the party store. The rat did make the ‘bot move a bit slower, but it still was plenty entertaining for his son. [Griff] plans to use a CdS cell to make the rat appear to scamper when room lights are turned on. Scurrying rats will have us running for the hills for sure!

pumpkin[MagicWolfi] was created Pumpkin-O-Chain to light up Halloween around the house. This build was inspired by [Jeri Ellsworth’s] motion sensing barbot dress from 2011. Pumpkin-O-Chain uses the a similar RC delay line with 74HC14 inverters to make the LEDs switch on in sequence. He wanted the delay to be a bit longer than [Jeri’s] though, so he switched to 100K ohm resistors in this build. The result is a nice effect which is triggered when someone passes the PIR motion sensor.

pumpkinlite[Petri] got tired of his Jack-o’-lantern candles burning out, so he built his own Pumpkin Light. The light made its debut last year with a Teensy 2.0++ running the show. This year, [Petri] decided to go low power and switched to an MSP430 processor on one of TI’s launchpad boards. With plenty of outputs available on the Teensy and the MSP430, [Petri] figured he might as well use and RGB LED. The new improved Jack-o’-lantern can run for hours with no risk of fire.

We ccuth2an’t end this week without mentioning [Griff’s] updated Crochet Cthulhu Mask. We featured the mask in last week’s Hacklet, and called  [Griff] out for an update. Well, the final project is up, and it looks great! We’re sure [Griff’s] son will be raking in the candy this year!

It’s time for trick-or-treating, which means we have to end this episode of The Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!